TAMPA, Fla. — Aaron Judge, though still very much a young player closer to the start of his career than the end, always talks about the process of learning from one year to the next.
So what did the rightfielder learn from last year?
“Don’t get hit on the wrist,” he said with a smile Tuesday.
Judge followed up his AL Rookie of the Year campaign in 2017— when he hit 52 homers, drove in 114 runs and finished second in MVP voting — by hitting 27 homers and driving in 67 runs last season.
But the rightfielder, after hitting 25 homers before the All-Star break, ended up playing in only 112 games in 2018. He missed much of the second half with a chip fracture in his right wrist, the result of getting hit by the Royals’ Jakob Junis, spending July 27-Sept. 14 on the disabled list.
Adding to the frustration was an initial timetable — a rare, overly optimistic one given by general manager Brian Cashman — that never came close to happening.
And what most encouraged the 26-year-old Judge this offseason was that he didn’t feel pain in the wrist at all, allowing him to attack his winter work without limitation.
“I’m 100 percent healthy,” said Judge, whose winter heading into 2018 was slowed as he recovered from shoulder surgery.
He said how good the wrist felt “surprised” him.
“Especially [because] during the season when it comes out, ‘three weeks you’ll be healthy, 10 days you’ll be swinging a bat,’ how that just kind of lingered on, that pain, all that lasted longer than three weeks,” Judge said. “In the offseason I was a little worried about it, but it’s 100 percent. I felt nothing. It feels like it never even happened. Nothing to worry about there.”
Judge will be part of a loaded lineup, as he was when healthy last season, one he feels is better than the one in 2018 that helped the Yankees win 100 games.
“We added a couple of position players that are really going to beef up this lineup that’s already pretty good,” Judge said, mentioning Troy Tulowitzki and DJ LeMahieu.
In ticking off the list of Yankees’ offseason additions — and retentions such as Zack Britton and J.A. Happ — Judge sounded most excited about reliever Adam Ottavino.
“Ottavino, man, that’s one guy I watched in the offseason,” Judge said. “I kept saying, ‘c’mon man, let’s pull the trigger on him, he’s got some nasty stuff.’ He’s going to be a dominant force in our pen, and getting Britton back as well. He’s another guy that was like, ‘I don’t want to face that guy or see him in the postseason.’”
The Yankees are fully expected to get there a third straight year after back-to-back disappointments — losing in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS to the eventual champion Astros, then in the Division Series in four games last year to the eventual champion Red Sox.
“I’m just excited, top to bottom, what this team’s capable of,” Judge said. “Expectations are always to win a World Series, that’s why I’m here. The pressure, all that, it comes with it, that’s why guys want to come here and play, because of all this. There’s nothing like it.”